Shurden, never a coach greatly influenced by the past, puts previous contests aside and takes one last look at the 2000 season. "Had we stayed healthy in one or two games we might have picked up a win or two more than we actually wound up with. Lots of teams would have been happy with the record we posted last season."
Looking at the upcoming crop of players, the Bulldog coach is quick to give praise to departed Bulldogs who contributed to last year's successes. "We will miss our sophomores who have moved on. But as usual we have some freshmen who will step up and take the place of the sophomores we lost."
On the defense, Darel Slay, 6-3, 240-pound middle linebacker, made first team all state as a freshman. Just about everyone is recruiting the Brunswick, Ga. product. Shurden and his staff are expecting great things out of this sophomore.
Cody Upton, one of many fine athletes who prepped at Madison Central High School, marks his second year of college football as a linebacker. He is an able competitor well documented by his feats in 2000 as a Bulldog. "He made great strides in the course of the season," Shurden said.
Other returning Bulldogs are adding significantly to the team's ability to effectively compete and win. Olando Harris, as a first-year defensive back, started two or three games late in the season. Everett Howard, a defensive tackle, returns. Marcus Jackson from Folkston, Ga., sees action as a defensive end. Verdrondes Williams, a sophomore from Lexington, a defensive end, was moved from linebacker to defensive end during last spring's drills. And Dwight Summerville from Grenada is at a defensive tackle position.
"We have some good young linebackers," Shurden said. This freshman talent pool is filled with the likes of Eddie Ledger from Grenada, and Andrell Curtis from Ackerman who played in the High School All-Star Game. Joining him are Joe Sykes, a 6-3, 235-pounder from Grenada; Vance Welch, a Kirk Academy product; and Jimmy Simmons, from Yazoo City.
As far as the secondary goes Bulldog fans cannot be but pleased with the ability level of the athletes Shurden and his staff have put on the field. Other defensive secondary players include: Alan Washington switched in the spring from a wide receiver to safety. He is probably ahead of the others wanting the job. O'Keefe Henderson is at cornerback. He will get significant amounts of playing time.
Marcus McLaurin from Canton fits in Shurden's plan as a defensive back, either at a corner or strong safety. He gets plenty of exposure and playing time. In the spring McLaurin dislocated a shoulder and missed drills - that, of course, was a set back .
"Freshmen in the secondary? And here we are excited overall, but no jobs are settled. I hope competition for the available jobs make up for the loss of experience brought on by graduation. And I hope these athletes' speed offset their lack of experience as freshmen," Shurden said.
Experienced guard Jerry Eckhart from Madison Central returns. The sophomore's credentials include some playing time at guard and center. The remainder of the offensive line is young. Though Shurden feels as if he has some talent in the players who are playing on that side of the ball. Also among the returnees is Olandia Roner from Canton. He is an athlete that is getting playing time at offensive tackle.
Among the first-year players Lemuel Mitchell from Weir is competing for an offensive line position. The same holds true for Walter Johnson from Aiken, South Carolina. He arrived in Goodman with his eye on a starting position at either a tackle's or guard's position.
With the consistency of the quality shown by the offensive line, Shurden is pleased. "We have big kids that can move quite well, can move quickly. We know we are going to have growing pains, but anticipate productive output from this group.
Other offensive slots are filled with a variety of talent drawn from a variety of schools and backgrounds. Chuck Darbonne from Madison played at Madison Ridgeland Academy. A year ago at quarterback he made Second Team All-State. Among the players behind him is Shelton Richardson, a freshman from Grenada. The first-year Bulldog is 6-2, 225 pounds. "We expect him (Richardson) to give us some immediate help," Shurden said.
A Madison Central product Bo Bradberry is a freshman who, should the need arise, steps in and takes up quarterbacking chores. He is also a contender for the starting punter's job.
Carroll Academy product Wayne Blaylock is a freshman who, at 6-3 and 220 pounds, can play quarterback or wide receiver. The new Bulldog also punts.
Two other players can also possibly lay claim to the placekicking job. Matthew Jones played prep ball at Carroll Academy. Former Tri-County Academy athlete Matthew Towne has a strong leg. Shurden said, "We'll see which one under pressure perform best."
Things look good as far as running backs go. "We have a premier running back in Marvin Vaughan. As a freshman he stayed hurt, nothing major, but those injuries kept him from being at full speed." During the off season he put on some pounds in the weight room and according to the coaches he is a much better player. The Velma Jackson High School alumnus holds his high school's rushing record. If he remains healthy he is a productive running back. Earnest Palmer from Brunswick, Ga., has the ability to be a great running back as he embarks upon his freshman year.
Alex Godfrey from Valdosta, Ga., came to Holmes last spring. Shurden feels this athlete gives the squad quality downs as a tailback and wide receiver. According to the Bulldog head coach the Georgia tailback possesses great speed, balance and great hands. As far as the fullbacks are concerned the jury remains out and the staff feels that freshmen contending for the slots are making their mark as they win the right to play for the Bulldogs.
Two returnees, Kenmaterial Woods and Reginald Haralson, again dress out for wide receiver's jobs. Woods is a product of the Grenada High School program while Haralson comes to the Bulldogs via Yazoo County High School.
Trey Gant, last year kicked for the Bulldogs, takes up a wide receiver's duties. Michael Antonini from Jacksonville, Fla., comes to Ras Branch Stadium as a wide receiver. He, according to Shurden, is vying for a starter's job. In addition returns kicks. He catches the ball well, he can be explosive as a runner.
Shurden is upbeat about his Bulldog's chances for a good year. "We'll be quite young on both sides of the ball. We have four starters returning on offense, four on defense. So we won't be completely dependent upon freshmen." He adds, "But at the same time the freshmen are having to gear up early."
The staff agree the freshmen class is a talented group of athletes. But they stress they don't know what to expect until the team gets some games under its collective belt." Shurden said, "You can win with young players."
Coach Ashley Anders this year coordinates the defense. In addition to his other coaching chores, first-year staff member, Coach Ed Rigby, works with the linebackers. Volunteer Coach Joe Lynn Gant proffers direction to the wide receivers. The quarterbacks and running backs are guided by Coach Bert Browne, while Coach Andy Wood again works with the offensive line.
Preseason prognostications are just that - guesses that may or may not accurately reflect the reality of the program as it unfolds during the course of the football season. But among those guesses and presumptions are some things that Bulldog fans can, for the most part, feel pretty certain will hold true and will come to past.
Win, lose or draw, Shurden's team are well coached. He, with his staff, lead onto the field a disciplined team that always performs at or near 100 percent of their ability. Some things just don't have to be guessed. There are some consistencies that are always present.
A Shurden team provides Bulldog fans with exciting ballgames and do it with style, grace and good manners. And this is true even if the score, at the end of four quarters, is not what Bulldog partisans want.
MISSISSIPPI TEAM PREVIEW: Holmes
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